In 1202, Minamoto no Yorike, a shogun of the Kamakura period, donated the temple area and founded the Kenninji Temple. Eisai designed the temple, modeling it after Hyakjōzan in the Song Dynasty. In 1259, a Zen monk from the Song Dynasty, Rankei Doryu, founder of Kenchoji Temple, entered the temple, and it became a purely Zen Buddhist temple.
Eventually, the Muromachi Shogunate established the Kyoto Gozan (five mountains), based on the Chinese system, and Kenninji Temple flourished as the third-ranked temple under its protection.
During the Tensho period (1573-1592), Ankokuji Ekei had the Hojo and Butsuden moved to the new location. The pagoda was reconstructed and repaired under the protection of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In the Meiji era (1868-1912), due to the government’s religious policy, the Kenninji School of the Rinzai sect became an independent sect, and Kenninji became the head temple of the School.
The separation of Buddhism and Shintoism led to the consolidation of sub-temples and the reduction of the temple grounds by nearly half. Currently the number of sub-temples is 15. They are Ryosoku-in Temple, Shoden Eigen-in Temple, Reigen-in Temple, Rokudo-chinnoji Temple, and others.
Ankokuji Ekei moved Hojo building from Ankokuji Temple in Aki in 1599.
Later, Ankokuji Ekei was defeated in the Battle of Sekigahara, captured, and beheaded in Kyoto. In a corner of the garden, there is a head mound dedicated to Ankokuji Ekei. Though, few people notice the monument.
The Hatto was from 1765. Its ceiling was painted with twin dragons in 2002 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the temple’s founding.
Kenninji Temple is also famous for its beautiful hojo gardens. Among several gardens, the courtyard garden, Choontei, is the most picturesque of all the gardens. It is a Zen garden with a stone in the center, a stone for zazen meditation to the east, and foliage around it. You can enjoy it from any direction.
Model courses to visit Kenninji Temple
Kenninji Temple is one of the so-called Kyoto Gozan temples.
Rokuharamitsuji Temple owns a famous statue of Kuya Shonin.